By Helmut Krausser (Dedalus; 1997)

This was apparently “one of the most acclaimed German novels of recent years,” written by “the great hope of German literature.” I’m not sure I agree with either sentiment. THE GREAT BAGAROZY is an entertaining enough exercise in freeform oddness, but also a pretty slight one.

It has Cora, a married woman psychiatrist, falling in love with a patient named Stanislaus Nagy, an apparent schizophrenic obsessed with the legendary Italian crooner Maria Callas. Nagy initially claims that Callas appears to him in visions, and indeed seems to possess an impossibly thorough knowledge of her and her life.

As their relationship progresses the guy reveals to Cora that he’s actually the Devil Himself. Why the Devil would be in love with Maria Callas I don’t quite understand, but that’s the situation.

Nagy, being the supernaturally-endowed ruler of the underworld he claims to be, apparently got close to Lady Callas by inhabiting the body of her pet poodle (a front page photo of Callas with said poodle helps illustrate this point). Callas was eventually driven to near-madness and death, but Nagy is still smitten with her, and refuses to consummate his affair with Cora.

Cora for her part is quite a troubled individual, and married to a nut who spends his days clipping newspaper articles about unusual deaths. These articles are interspaced throughout the book, forming an eccentric counterpoint to the action. The true significance of these snippets isn’t revealed until the book‘s final pages, when Cora’s hubbie meets his own violent end. By that point Nagy has broken off his dealings with Cora and taken a new job, as a magician billed as the Great Bagarozy. Whether he’s actually the Devil or not is never properly explained.

What we’re left with is a supernaturally-tinged romance with a dotty, eccentric edge. It’s well written (and ably translated from the German by Mike Mitchell), but could have used a more varied and eventful narrative, i.e. more to the story than Cora always pining after her unattainable object of desire and the latter’s constant recitations about Maria Callas. Those interested in biographical information about Callas will be sated; everyone else, however, will likely feel malnourished.